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Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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King County bus routes hitch ride on Google mapping site

Seattle Times technology reporter

Google is broadening its maps and directions service today in the Seattle area and four other cities with one that helps users plan trips on public transit.

The Google Transit Trip Planner, online at http://google.com/transit, uses data from King County to map bus routes and calculate how long the trip would take. It also compares the cost with what you would spend if you made the trip by car.

Google's research unit began testing the trip planner in Portland late last year and invited feedback from government agencies interested in being included.

King County Executive Ron Sims said he directed his staff to contact Google. The county's own transit-planning site was seeing steady traffic — it planned 7.5 million trips for users last year — and Sims wanted more sources of information online.

"We're moving into an age where people are incredibly comfortable with technology," Sims said. "If you're going to serve them, whether you're a private enterprise or a public agency, you've got to recognize how people are sourcing their information and using it."

The project gained momentum when Peng Zhao, an engineer in Google's Kirkland office, offered to help with the Seattle component. Google is also launching the service in Pittsburgh; Honolulu; Tampa, Fla.; and Eugene, Ore.

The county has mainly shared its route data with Google and Busmonster.com, a site created by a Seattle developer, but Sims said it wants to work with more partners.

He said the county has not been approached by Microsoft, which competes with Google in offering online maps and directions.

There are a few differences between Google's planner and the county's site. Google offers maps of routes, something that the county doesn't have. But the county gives a user up to three choices to reach a destination, while Google gives one.

And Google has access only to King County bus routes, while the county provides ferry schedules and transit data from other counties.

Finally, Google's service doesn't work on cellphones. The county's site works with certain handheld devices.

"We don't treat this as competition, and neither does King County," said Avichal Garg, a product manager with Google's transit team at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. "We're in this very luxurious position where people come to Google looking for more information."

The county is receiving no money from Google.

The company isn't planning to place any advertising on its transit site, Garg said, and is looking to expand to more cities in the U.S. and internationally.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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